New Program Aims to Prep Detroit Teens for Advertising Industry – and Diversify the FieldNovember 3, 2022
Crain’s Detroit Business
Nov. 2, 2022
A new creative training program for Detroit students aimed at inclusion and equity in advertising shines a light on renewed efforts and pitfalls in DEI over the last couple of years.
VMLY&R, a New York-based advertising company and subsidiary of global communications company WPP PLC, recently launched its first run of a 10-week advertising course open to Detroit high school students.
The free program, which has been in the works for two years, aims to close the racial gap in the ad industry by fostering support for Black and brown teens, a generation that is already leading the way in online trends and social media, said the program’s executive director, Kapria Jenkins.
Through the Detroit Experience Studio program, students will get the chance to develop and pitch creative advertising ideas to Dearborn-based workwear company Carhartt Inc., one of VMLY&R’s client partners.
“We wanted to give the students real-life experiences, but we also wanted to give them bragging rights,” Jenkins said. “It adds not only to their competence, but also to their confidence.”
In addition to free transportation, lunch, laptops and other digital devices, students will also receive a $600 stipend at the end of the course, averaging to $15 an hour, to ensure they aren’t forced to choose between an income or the program, Jenkins said. All enrollees are people of color from Detroit public schools, selected through an online application process.
Alongside sister agency Makerhouse, VMLY&R designed a space specifically for the Detroit Experience Studio with the age group in mind inside the WPP campus at the historic Marquette Building, which WPP companies moved into three years ago.
VMLY&R will run two cohorts a year, and Jenkins said the goal is to keep the program around for a while. There are about 20 students enrolled now, she said, and the cohort will meet for two hours after school twice a week.
Jenkins, who joined VMLY&R earlier this year after a decade working in nonprofits, said inclusion was among her priorities when selecting her place of work as a Black woman.
“I wanted to show up as myself,” Jenkins said. “So, that’s what we’re showing our students as well, is that you don’t have to change how you look, you don’t have to change how you speak, you don’t have to downplay where you came from. These things are all assets… and we’re going to teach you how to tap into that.”
The Association of National Advertisers, a member organization headquartered in New York, has released an annual diversity report since 2018, which tracks demographics at the 61 member companies collectively, including WPP.
The companies increased in racial diversity by about 1 percentage point in 2021 to 27.2 percent, according to the report. However, the ratio of African Americans and Black people has remained stagnant over the last few years around 5.9 percent, lowest at the chief marketing officer level at 4.6 percent.
VMLY&R told Crain’s that 34 percent of people hired over the last three years identified as Black, Indigenous or people of color.
WPP committed $30 million globally in 2020 to advance racial equity, funding programs across its global offices in Brazil, the United Kingdom and the U.S. The total cost for Detroit Experience Studio is $1.5 million and WPP is covering half of it with VMLY&R covering most of the rest, said Nikeisha Beckford, VMLY&R’s group director of client engagement and board chair of DES.
“This commitment was birthed out of inequality that’s happening in our industry,” Beckford said.
VMLY&R has worked with Ford Motor Co., Pfizer Inc., Coca-Cola Co,. Dell Technologies Inc. and other Fortune 500 companies. All of the DES instructors work at VMLY&R or its sister agencies in communication, providing the students with a variety of expertise, Beckford said.
Beckford also said everyone involved in the Detroit Experience Studio is required to attend an inclusive leadership training course, which centers around uncovering personal biases and instruction on best practices for inclusion and equity. Alongside preparing instructors and others to interact with the students with inclusivity in mind, the goal was also to give team members skills they could take back to their own work.
After partnering with the Detroit Public Schools Community District on the program, the agency is also working to finalize a memorandum of understanding with the district for further expansion and services, Jenkins said.
Crain’s requested comment from DPSCD, but it did not make someone available.
“My ultimate goal is that we have empowered these kids to know that they can transform their lives and their communities,” Jenkins said. “Wherever these kids end up, I think that, for us, it’s about rooting them in these foundational skills that will just be a launching pad for their future.”
At the end of the program, instructors will provide planning catered to each student’s needs, from college preparation to recruitment and internship opportunities, Jenkins said.
“I think the investment in this program is definitely one of those signs that the tide is turning,” Beckford said, adding that corporate ad agencies have boosted its focus on inclusion and equity since 2020.
As the sixth Black person at the VMLY&R Detroit office when she started two years ago, Beckford said she has witnessed a shift across the industry with an increased emphasis on inclusion and equity, from leadership change to industry conference topics.
“I think we definitely have a road to go,” she said.